I was encouraged by the response when I shared a taster of my current work in progress, back in May. So I thought I would do this again from time to time as the novel develops (about 30,000 words so far). The book follows the relationship between narrator Claire and her elderly father, Herbert, as his memory deteriorates. This is starting to cause some serious problems ….
It started when we were watching TV – I think it was a video of Morecambe and Wise, something like that. Normally, the half hour of the show would be punctuated at regular intervals by his laughter (I envied him this one compensation of his condition: jokes never lost their freshness and impact, however many times he heard them). Tonight, though, he could not focus on the show. He seemed distracted, agitated. Eventually I just switched it off and gave him his supper early. But that didn’t help. He took barely a sip of his Horlicks and ignored the biscuits altogether. Instead, I noticed that he was fumbling in each pocket of his jacket and trousers in turn, muttering unintelligibly to himself. Then he turned out the contents of each pocket – bits of paper, coins, handkerchiefs – out onto the sofa, sifting through them carefully before returning them. At one point he walked out into the hall to get his coat before scouring the pockets of that as well.
“Dad, what on earth is the matter? What are you looking for?”
“Have you seen my keys? I can’t find them anywhere.”
I gave an inward sigh of relief.
“Dad, what are you like? They’re on the key chain in your coat pocket. You got them out not five minutes ago. Look …”
I rummaged in the pocket of his coat, which was still on the sofa, pulling out the key chain and dangling it in front of him. He took it and examined each of the four keys in turn – two for his house, which we had not yet got round to selling, two for mine.
“No. These are house keys. They’re Yale locks – look, it says on the key.” He showed me the letters Y-A-L-E on the key. “I’m looking for the shop keys. Those are Chubb locks, the long, thin, silver ones. I can’t find them anywhere.”
“Dad, why would you be looking for a shop key? I don’t think we even have one any more. We gave all the keys to Mr Nazir when we sold the shop to him.”
He turned and looked at me as if I were some kind of idiot.
“I am looking for the shop key so I can get into the shop. Do you expect me to climb in through the bloody window? And how are the customers supposed to get in if the door is locked?”
I had to take a deep breath and sit down. He took no notice, and began to rummage through his jacket pockets again. Then he turned to me.
“Have you got it? Maybe you took the key for some reason. Why don’t you have a look in your handbag?”
I spoke as calmly as I could.
“Dad, I don’t have a key to the shop. You don’t have a key to the shop. We sold the shop over ten years ago to Mr Nazir. It’s an Indian takeaway now.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! You should be ashamed of yourself, telling stories like that. Now stop playing silly buggers and help me find that blasted key.”
My patience was rapidly disappearing.
“For the last time, there is no shop, there is no key! You’re eighty-two years old; you don’t need to work any more – you have a pension, a home, you’re well looked after. You just need to get that into your head, Dad, okay? Just have your supper and go to bed.”
His face went purple with rage. “You wicked woman! You just want to take the shop away from me, don’t you? Keep all the profits for yourself. That’s why you’re telling all these lies, trying to trick me into letting you get away with it. I bet you’ve stolen the shop keys, haven’t you. Well if you won’t look for them, I will.”
He walked over to the table at the side of the room, where my handbag was hanging off the back of a chair. He picked it up and started to peer inside it.
And finally, I just lost it. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I grabbed the handback off him and emptied the contents out onto the table, then I opened every single side pocket right in front of his nose.
“Look. No fucking keys! Are you satisfied now?
An expression of frightened bewilderment came over his face, as if he were a pig in a slaughterhouse. At this point, something inside me just broke. I am not an emotional sort of person, I rarely cry, but at that moment I rushed upstairs and wept helplessly for about five minutes. Then I cleaned myself up and lay on the bed, as a violent headache started to lay siege to my skull. It must have been at least a quarter of an hour before I felt able to go downstairs again. I shuddered to think what I would find.
It was as if nothing had happened. He greeted me with a smile.
“Oh, hello Claire. I wonder if you could help me. I’m having some trouble finding my shop keys. Can’t think where I put them.”
Something occurred to me that I hadn’t thought of before.
“It’s Saturday night, Dad. Tomorrow is a Sunday.”
I pointed at the digital clock on the mantelpiece, which sure enough bore the letters “SAT”.
“Silly me. Of course it is. We’ve got all of tomorrow to find them, then. In that case, I think I’ll go to bed. I’m feeling rather tired. It’ll be nice to have a bit of a lie in in the morning. Good night, then.”
I gave him a little kiss.